Merry holiday!

Someone wished me a merry holiday the other day, and I thought I’d adopt the greeting.

Merry, merry everything to you!

In the meantime, if you missed it, here’s a story we ran about hunger among older people. Photographer Michael Gallacher shot the photos, including the one below.

The problem of senior hunger is growing, but the response to the story has been tremendous. Just today, I received a handwritten letter from a man in Butte.

“The way I see the problem is that we, meaning people in general including seniors, have to use our voting power to elect politicians whose ideals most reflect the truth,” wrote the man, a senior himself, in the six-page letter. “The tragedy in Mineral County, which is largely why I got out, is that the low income people vote for the politicians who are the worst at representing their needs.”

Since the beginning of the week, a couple dozen people have called or emailed about the story. One woman said the couple pictured above needs to get rid of their dogs.

Another woman called to say she was glad to learn she was not alone in her struggle.

The others all wanted to help in some way, most to send donations to the Baileys, and one of those callers said he had called all his congressmen.

So senior hunger isn’t an uplifting topic, of course, but people’s reactions have been. Merry holiday to all, and I’ll see you in 2014.

— Keila Szpaller

Superior buys its own water

I have a story running this weekend about how the sale in Superior went in 2000 when the town bought its own water system from Mountain Water.

I’ll link to it when it’s published, but in the meantime, here’s some related documents and info, if you’re interested.

1. A letter from lawyer John Alke saying the Montana Public Service Commission doesn’t have authority over utility transfers. Alke has represented utilities before the PSC for 33 years.

2. A letter from Mae Nan Ellingson, bond counsel for Superior in 2000, expressing some of the same arguments people in Missoula have made in favor of a sale here.

3. The failed bills Alke mentions in the story: 2001, 2003, and 2005.

4. The Public Service Commission’s history of asserting authority over sales. See number 49 in the final order.

This post will make more sense once you read the story. I cut a couple other curious things from the story since it was too long, but I’ll share them here.

One is that when Superior bought its water system from Mountain Water, the Montana Consumer Counsel didn’t offer an opinion. I don’t know why.

MCC lawyer Mary Wright said she wasn’t there at the time, neither was her rate analyst, and neither of them know the reason the Consumer Counsel wasn’t involved. She said typically, the MCC would intervene in such a case, and they generally haven’t opposed water company sales and transfers to water districts or homeowners “where the customers clearly want to take control.”

Also, as you saw in the letter in No. 1, Alke said Montana doesn’t have an asset transfer statute. However, the city of Missoula wants to buy Mountain Water, and in the sale to Carlyle, the city was among the parties that stipulated the PSC will authorize the sale or transfer of utility property in excess of $1 million. See page 95 or just do a Ctrl+F for “ring fencing.”

OK, I’m tired now. TMI. But while we’re on the topic, I meant to link to this opinion from Vicky Gordon opposing a purchase of Mountain Water by the city of Missoula.

Really, that’s all now. Stay warm.

— Keila Szpaller


Buses need wiggle room


This is a Mountain Line bus driver, Mark Nord. You know the debate about lane widths on Russell Street?

Well, this week, I had the chance to ask Nord if the buses could ride down lanes that were 10 feet wide. Nord said yes, but it’s definitely a squeeze.

He said bus drivers do a narrow stretch heading south off the Higgins Avenue bridge.

The buses are 102 inches wide, and that doesn’t count mirrors, he said. That’s 8.5 feet, so not a lot of room for error.

Especially if you have another big truck in the other lane.

Want to weigh in on the debate? Councilman Jason Wiener proposed a public hearing Dec. 16.

More reads?

1. The rest of the story on how deicer slicked up the roads in Seattle.

2. The urban forest in Missoula is worth an estimated $71 million. Story. Full report.

3. A man who once earned a Volunteer of the Year award from the city of Missoula pleads guilty to “sexting” with a teenager.

All for now.

— Keila Szpaller


How do copy editors think of headlines all the time?

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Some interesting reads today:

1. Some bad de-icer caused wrecks in the Seattle area. Not good. From @thenewschick. Just out.

2. The city of Missoula is working on the urban forest. Here’s the story from my colleague Martin Kidston. Here’s a report from Parks & Rec.

3. A roundabout residency? Assistant news editor Kathleen Kimble sent me this L.A. Times story about a writer in Los Angeles who set up her old typewriter in a roundabout. Thanks, K2.

4. Photographer Michael Gallacher took the shot above. If you missed this feel good story about Hannah and Missoula Animal Control, you are missing out. So here it is. 

— Keila Szpaller